And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
This Agatha Christie classic, often referred to as the bestselling crime novel of all time, is a fun read that is baffling in all the good ways. It’s usually considered a locked room mystery, which means it takes place in some type of confined space, the cast of characters do not enter or leave the space once the mystery begins, the mystery seems almost impossible to solve, and the solution to the mystery does not involve paranormal or any kind of ghostly assistance.
Even though And Then There Were None doesn’t take place in an actual locked room, it is set on a remote and largely inaccessible island. The setting conforms to the most important elements of a locked room mystery: no one comes to or leaves the island once the mystery begins, there is no way to get back to civilization once everyone has arrived, and there is no one else on the island except the characters in the story.
Here’s a short summary of the story:
The new owner of Soldier Island has invited an unlikely hodge-podge of guests to spend some time at the mansion on the island. Each invitee has received a letter providing a different reason for the invitation. The reasons are many: one is invited to visit a new seaside retreat, one is invited to reconnect with old war buddies, one is asked to accept temporary secretarial position on the island, etc. The reasons seem logical and plausible to the recipients, so no one seriously questions the sender’s real motives.
The first night on the island, it becomes clear that everyone has been tricked into coming by their host, who is unknown to each of them. Following their first dinner together, they are assembled in the dining room when a disembodied voice startles the party. With methodical and ghastly precision, the voice accuses each guest of causing the death of another person or persons at some point in the guest’s life. The voice provides scant details, but delivers its accusations with certainty and conviction. The guests, strangers to each other, feel the stirrings of paranoia, fear, and distrust.
One by one, the guests are eliminated over the ensuing hours and days. One drowns, one is poisoned, one is bludgeoned. No one knows who’s responsible, or who’s next. It seems inexplicable…until you get to the end, when the person and the blood-chilling motive behind the ruse is revealed.
This locked room mystery is a classic for a reason: it’s ingenious, brilliantly told, and timeless. Originally published in 1939, the book does include some elements of language and punctuation that seem aberrant today but were common during that era—I think those elements only make the book more special. And before you decide not to read the book because you’ve seen the television mini-series or any of the movies, think again! The book is better (and has a different ending, in many cases).
Even if you’ve read this book before, as I have, I urge you to read it again. It’s one of those tales that reveals something new each time you read it. You’ll find clues you never noticed and details you had forgotten.
I would recommend And Then There Were None to anyone who loves Agatha Christie, locked room mysteries, and mysteries in general!